Monday, September 25, 2006

Numbers and Sense in Genesis

Carol Hill wrote an article a few years back called "Making sense of the numbers of Genesis." This essentially takes the position that when one views the numbers of the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis within the context of numerology and gematria, they make sense.

She starts off with a bang by quoting Hugh Ross, who states:

When readers encounter the long life spans in Genesis, they become convinced that the book is fictional, or legendary at best, whether in part or in whole (Ross 1998)

Conrad Hyers referred to this as " believing as many as three impossible things before breakfast! " Hill points out that the numbers in the Primeval History are base-sixty, a conclusion that was also reached by Hyers and Lloyd Bailey, in his excellent work Noah: the Man in History and Tradition. When one reads the ages of the patriarchs, their life spans end in 0, 5, 7 or 2, with the exception of Methusaleh, who, at the age of 769, dies in the flood or in the year of the flood. She notes that this is a "chance probability of one in a billion."

She makes some other points that would be uncomfortable to most YEC supporters. Namely,
• That the Mesopotamian Ubaid culture was using advanced numerical terminology as early as 5500 B.C. (or 1500 years before the creation of the world)
• That the sacred numbers that the Mesopotamians used were the same ones the early hebrews used
• The literal ages of the patriarchs vary depending on which version of the Primeval History that you use (Masoretic Text, Septuagint or Samaritan Pentateuch), sometimes dramatically.

This is a good attempt to grapple with a truly vexing issue and my only quibble with her argument is when she tries to correlate the lives of the patriarchs with the rise of complex civilizations in the Near East. The problem is that right smack in the middle of the genealogical information is a world-wide flood that wipes everything off of the map. Hill makes no mention of this, an event for which there is not a shred of credible evidence. Arguments such as hers will have to address this elephant in the room before they can be successful in their presentation.

Bailey, Lloyd. (1989) Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition South Carolina Press

Ross, H. The Genesis Question (1998) Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998, 115.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised no one has commented on your helpful summary to date, Jimpithecus. Thanks for posting it. Concerning the Noahic flood in the middle of the ancient genealogies, 'world' events in Scripture are demonstrably regional; global descriptions are never used. And a comment on that flood in a discourse on the meaning of life span numbers would be a distraction, though it is integral to the Biblical text itself. BTW there appears to be several threads of geological evidence that point to a confluence of events that would substantiate a significant amount of global flooding about 7,700-8,000 years ago. Lake Iroquois glacial run off from Canada, Sicillian volcanoe, Black Sea and Persian Gulf flooding all in the same time frame. Check them all out. I would love to see your comments.